Writing Life

Whichcraft: The Emotional Craft of Fiction by Donald Mass

Are you looking to hone your skills? The Writing Bloc team recommend some of their favorite craft books in our Whichcraft? series.

When embarking on the editing process with my first novel, it became apparent that some of my holdover habits from working as a freelance writer for most of my adult life were hard to shake. I’ll be the first to admit, transitioning from non-fiction writing to fiction writing resulted in an ingrained habit of telling instead of showing.

I set about searching for a writing craft book that focused on tuning into character emotions. What I landed on was The Emotional Craft of Fiction: How to Write the Story Beneath the Surface by Donald Mass.

Showing and telling are only part of the picture. But, they are not even the most important part. As we will discover, readers may believe that they’re living a story along with it’s characters. Actually, they’re not. Readers are having their own experience that is merely occasioned by what’s on the page.

The book touches on topics such as Me-Centered Narration, Stirring Higher Emotions, Connecting the Inner and Outer Journey, and Why Readers Really Fall in Love with Protagonists. It was a valuable buy, and I’ve turned to it repeatedly when I’ve felt stuck and needed a nudge to approach a scene from a new angle.

When readers feel strongly, their hearts are open. Your stories can not only reach them for a moment, but they can change them forever. I don’t care about what you write, how you write it, your choices in publishing, or what you want out of your career. What I want is to feel deeply as I read your work. I want to want to feel connected to you and your characters in the way I do to the most memorable classics and the most stunning new titles I’ll read this year.

The Emotional Craft of Fiction Book Cover
The book is a quick and engaging read, and the author pulls from other literary works to provide examples so that readers can see certain techniques in action.

Now, if you’re anything like me, you’ll want a writing craft book that is not only inspiring as you read it for the first time from cover to cover, but one that is also handy to reference in the future. My favorite feature is the “Emotional Mastery” exercise, such as the one below, that Mass has included at the end of each section.

  • Pick a point in your manuscript in which the predominant feeling is large and primary. If you’re unsure, choose the moment in which your protagonist feels the greatest fear.
  • What are small signs that indicate something large is happening? What details, hints, indirect clues, or visible effects have you used?
  • What repercussions of what’s happening can the reader immediately see?
  • What does your protagonist or POV character feel that is not immediate? How will she change, do something differently from now on, or see another person, or anything at all, in a way that’s forever altered?

These exercises could be completed in order while combing through an entire manuscript, or could be pulled out when you feel stuck on a scene.

I was thrilled with this purchase, have flipped through the book more than a few times now, and recommended it to multiple friends. If you think you need to dive deeper into how you are conveying your character’s emotions to your readers, then I highly recommend.

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Writing Life

Whichcraft: Characters & Viewpoint by Orson Scott Card

Are you looking to hone your skills? The Writing Bloc team recommend some of their favorite craft books in our Whichcraft? series.

Book cover, Elements of Fiction Writing: Characters & Viewpoint by Orson Scott CardElements of Fiction Writing is a series of instructive books on the craft of writing, each written by a different author. Characters & Viewpoint is an installment by Orson Scott Card, and I found it to be a great educational read.

“A character is what he does, yes — but even more, a character is what he means to do.”

The book covers in great depth a range of topics, from inventing characters through to portraying them on the page. It looks at understanding what characters you need, how to develop their identity and history, the roles they should play in the story, and how to make it come alive. It also looks at the types of stories you may be telling, how that might affect which characters you choose to focus on, and the points of view you may want to use.

“Remember that of all these different ways of getting to know people — and therefore getting to know characters — the most powerful of them, the ones that make the strongest impression, are the first three: what the character does in the story, what his motives are, and what he has done in the past.”

If you’ve ready Scott Card’s How to Write Science Fiction and Fantasy, then you will notice some overlap between the two books. However, the overlap is in the basic information on story construction, and this book dives much deeper into writing believable and engaging characters.

“The starting point, the most important factor of all, is whether they’re interesting and believable to you.”

I found this book to be clear and engaging, written in a style that made me feel I was sitting in a comfortable chair across from the man himself, listening as he talked about the topic. At the same time, it’s well structured, making the advice it provides easy to digest. This is important, as the pages are dense with techniques, hints, and tips.

“Self-chosen suffering for the sake of a greater good — sacrifice, in other words — is far more intense than pain alone.”

The bottom line? I knew I needed to work a little smarter (and harder) on creating deeper characters, which is why I turned to this book in particular. It delivered, giving me a new outlook on the process and (I hope) more believable and engaging characters in my stories.

Have you read this book?

If you’ve read this book we’d love to discuss it with you. What did you think about it? What were your favorite quotes? Join us on our twitter feed to discuss.


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